Tomorrow, the blog turns two months old. You probably haven’t noticed, but I have posted every day of the past two months, and none of those posts have been about women. Is there really such a lack of female comedians?
In fact, there are many phenomenal female comedians, but many people – including respected intellectuals such as Christopher Hitchens – would have you think otherwise. In his 2007 article for Vanity Fair ‘Why Women Aren’t Funny,’ Hitchens explains how women are the child-bearers and thus take things too seriously. Um, whatever you say Mr Hitchens.
A year later, Alessandra Stanley wrote ‘Who Says Women Aren’t Funny,’ also for Vanity Fair. She talks to prominent female comedians such as Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman, and asks them why the tables have turned and how they cope in a male-dominated industry.
Stanley talks about “a new generation of comediennes—women who not only play comic roles but also perform stand-up and write and direct comedy.” This idea of taking on multiple roles is a tough one for America, a country that adores labelling everything under the sun and putting it in tiny boxes. But it’s the reason these comediennes survive, and it sets them apart from old-school gals like Lucille Ball or Mary Tyler Moore, who didn’t write their own material.
Nora Ephron explains women’s sudden success:
“Here’s the answer to any question: cable,” she says. “There are so many hours to fill, and they ran out of men, so then there were women.”
Stanley goes on to say, “Certainly, the rewards of wit are not nearly as ample for women as for men, and sometimes funny women are actually penalized.” She quotes Joan Rivers:
“Men find funny women threatening. They ask me, ‘Are you going to be funny in bed?’ ”
Not only are there more female comedians nowadays, but they talk about different things.
There has been an epochal change even from 20 years ago, when female stand-up comics mostly complained about the female condition—cellulite and cellophane—and Joan Rivers and Roseanne Barr perfectly represented the two poles of acceptable female humor: feline self-derision or macho-feminist ferocity.
Yet an influx of comediennes hasn’t happened because women have gotten funnier.
“It’s not that these girls are better than the girls who preceded them,” says Fran Lebowitz. “They’re luckier. They came along at a time when the boys allowed them to do this. In comedy, timing is everything.”
And more comediennes doesn’t mean better roles.
Today’s movie comedies—think of Ellen Pompeo playing sweet and bland in Old School, or Rachel McAdams in Wedding Crashers—often shortchange women’s roles. “Female parts are underwritten as it is,” says Poehler. “You don’t need to be that funny, so you might as well be good-looking.”
Conclusion: women aren’t not funny. In a man’s world, they need to play by men’s rules. Only then can they start subverting them.